by lyle e davis
One would think from all the media attention given to serial killers that they are a fairly new and rare phenomenon.
They’ve been around since biblical times and they are really much more common than we would like to think. The list of serial killers is a lengthy one; and a frightening one.
As I researched this story I was amazed at the large number of serial killers . . . and how common serial killings are.
I also found myself thinking, "wow, if I were a young writer, or if I were to recommend to a young writer a field to pursue, it's writing on crime." One could make a career just out of writing about serial killers. I spent at least three hours last Saturday gathering statistics. I came up with a list of 158 serial killers. (See the list below). They range from scruffy, itinerant drifters to those who come from middle and upper class homes. We found a great many shocking stories but what was equally shocking was to learn that serial killers who kill only three or four are small change in that department. 30+ victims are not all that uncommon.
The stories are often very different, but are often very similar. A profile begins to emerge. Serial killers are, by definition, psychopathic. A great many have one form or another of sexual deviation. They pursue rape, necrophilia (sex with the dead), torture (from which they derive sexual pleasure), they can be either hetero or homosexual, or, for that matter, bisexual.
And they are weird. From Edward Gein, the Plainfield, Wisconsin, farmer who made lampshades from the skin of his victims, used lips of his victims for curtain pulls, who had skulls on each post of his four poster bed, who fancied himself a transvestite but didn’t want to have the surgery, so, instead, wore the tanned genitalia of his female victims, and dressed in women’s clothing . . . to Jane Toppan (1854 - 1938), who confessed to 31 murders in 1901. She is quoted as saying that her ambition was "to have killed more people — helpless people — than any other man or woman who ever lived.”
If a young writer had a good agent, I believe he or she could make a comfortable and fascinating living writing on this subject. We all seem to have just enough interest in the macabre . . . enough curiousity to read about the miserable lives of others . . . whether the killer or the victim, that there is an ongoing market.
I remember as a kid reading 'True Detective' and other magazines of that nature . . . usually in a barber shop. True Detective ceased publication in 1995. Today’s market appears to be television, magazine features, and the Internet. A lot of these stories almost write themselves . . . look at the police reports, review the photo art, research the news coverage . . . and assemble a story.
One such reporter assembled a fascinating, blood-curdling story about the earliest recorded serial killers in America. Doris Lane wrote:
The earliest recorded serial killers in America are believed to be the Harp boys. Big Harp and Little Harp . . from near western Muhlenberg County, Kentucky.
Harp’s Hill is near the Pond River in western Muhlenberg County, Ky., not far from Highway 62. There is a crossing in the road near Dixon named Harp’s Head and one of the crossing roads is named Harp’s Head Road. Some miles away, the precise location lost to time, there is a cave known as Harp’s House. To tell how these places earned their names is to tell the story of Micajah (Big) and Wiley (Little) Harp, America’s first known serial killers.
These two were something else. While they passed for brothers, they actually were cousins, sons of brothers John and William Harpe, Scottish immigrants to Orange County, N.C.
The boys were named William (Micajah/Big), son of John, and Joshua (Wiley/Little), son of William. Big Harp and Little Harp left home as young men in 1775, aiming to become overseers of slaves in Virginia. Career plans diverted by the American Revolution, the Harps instead became Tory outlaws in a gang that roved the North Carolina countryside, raping farmers’ daughters, pillaging livestock and crops, and burning farmhouses. In the attempted kidnapping of one young girl by a Tory rape gang, Little Harp was shot and wounded by local Patriot Captain James Wood.
In 1780, the British took the Tory irregulars and their Cherokee allies into their ranks. The Harp boys fought in a number of battles until they finally decided to leave the army. They soon returned to North Carolina, where they kidnapped Captain Wood’s daughter, Susan, and another local girl, Maria Davidson. The kidnapped women would serve as wives to the Harps until the bitter end.
The Harps took the women across the Appalachians to the Cherokee-Chickamauga town of Nickjack, in the vicinity of what is now Chattanooga, Tenn. Along the way, a member of the gang, Moses Doss, objected to the brutal treatment of the women and the Harps killed him. The Harps, with their wives, lived in the Indian village at Nickjack for over a decade. They would participate from time to time in British backed Indian battles.
Both women had given birth to babies twice. Each time the fathers murdered their babies. Counted with Moses Doss, the four infanticides made five known killings before 1797, or so, when the Harps settled in a cabin on Beaver’s Creek near the frontier capital of Knoxville, Tenn. On June 1, 1797, Little Harp legitimately married Sally Rice, the daughter of a local minister, bringing the number of Harp wives to three.
|On February 23, 1996, the people of the state of California finally followed through on their decision that the world would be a better place without William Bonin. After fighting for his life for 17 years, the notorious “Freeway Killer” became the first person to be executed by lethal injection in California. For the survivors of the 14 young men and boys whom Bonin was convicted of killing and of the nearly 30 others whom this classic sociopath is suspected of slaying, the Freeway Killer’s execution probably lacked an element of justice.
||Wayne Williams - In January 1982, he was found guilty of the murder of two adult men. After his conviction, the Atlanta police declared an additional 23 of the 29 child murders solved.
A Killing Rampage
After two killings, one in Knox County and one on the Wilderness Trail, the Harps left Tennessee in December 1798 for Kentucky, where they killed two traveling men from Maryland. The Harps liked to gut their victims and fill their stomach cavities with rocks to weight them down so they’d sink in a river.
When they stopped for breakfast on Dec. 12, 1798, at John Farris’ Wayside House near the Big Rock Castle River, despite the thieving and killing along the way, the Harps were hungry and flat broke, filthy and bedraggled. But there was a kind and generous young man who was staying at the inn who invited them to be his guests at his table.
His name was John Langford. He was traveling from Virginia to pay a visit to a friend in Crab Orchard, Ky. A halfway house, such as Farris’, was a place many travelers stopped and waited in order to join up with others heading in the same direction. It was wild and dangerous countryside and earned its name, The Wilderness. Two cattle drovers found Langford’s mutilated corpse in The Wilderness two days later, when their cattle shied off Boone’s Trace into the woods at the scent of blood.
The body was taken back to John Farris’ Wayside House and the innkeeper pointed the way to the Harps and their women, who were apprehended outside Crab Orchard. All five were imprisoned, but the Harp men managed to escape, leaving their women to face justice alone. The Harps fled for the barely settled and ill-defined Henderson County, Ky. Eventually, the Harp wives were released, escorted out of town with three infants born in jail, and one gift horse among them.
As abused and frightened women are wont to do, they immediately swapped the horse for a canoe, traveled west along the Green River toward the Ohio River, and a reunion with the husbands Harp at a pirates’ den called Cave-In-The-Rock on the Illinois side.
The Kentucky frontier had gone on alert after the Langford killing and the Harps’ subsequent escape from the law in Danville. Kentucky Gov. James Garrard ordered out a posse after the Harps. The posse caught up with the Harps in a cane field in Central Kentucky, but the posse members were too afraid to try to capture them, allowing them to get away through the cane.
In disgust, one of the posse members, Henry Scaggs, went to the home of Col. Daniel Trabue, a Revolutionary War veteran and wilderness pioneer, who lived near the present Columbia in Adair County, to report the posse’s cowardice.
As Scaggs sat in Trabue’s house discussing the critical situation, Trabue’s young son’s dog, covered in blood, came limping into the yard. The dog had left the house earlier with Trabue’s 13-year-old son, John, who had been sent along the old buffalo trace to borrow some flour and seed beans from a neighbor. About two weeks later the boy’s body was found, decomposed, dismembered, and dumped in a sinkhole. The seed beans were there, but the flour was gone.
In response to the boy’s murder, the governor issued a $300 reward on each of the Harp heads.
In the reward notice issued at Frankfort, Ky., Micajah Harp was described as being about six feet tall, as robustly built with an erect carriage, about 32 years old, with short black hair growing low on his forehead. He wore "a striped nankeen coat, dark blue woolen stockings, leggins of drab cloth and trousers of the same as the coat." Wiley was "very meagre in the face…looks older but really younger, and has likewise a downcast countenance. He had on a coat of the same stuff as his brother’s, and had a drab surtout coat over the close-bodied one."
Moving north, the Harps killed a man named Edmonton, a settler named Stump, and, upon reaching the Potts Plantation near the mouth of the Saline River, they killed three men sitting around a campfire. Meanwhile, the posse, out after the Harps on their race across the state, summarily hanged some dozen criminals along the way, and ran a host of outlaws out of Kentucky. They stopped just short of Cave-in-The-Rock, on the Illinois side of the Ohio River, or they might have had the Harps that day.
This limestone opening in a bluff above the Ohio River at its junction with the Saline, was a well-known natural landmark throughout the 18th century, a rest stop for river travelers migrating west. Beginning in the 1790s and until the 1830s, it was home base to an entire corporation of river pirates. In 1798, the most famous among them was Samuel Mason, a Revolutionary War veteran turned river bandit. His large sign outside invited weary travelers to "Wilson’s Liquor Vault and House for Entertainment." His unwary victims were beaten and robbed in the cave, and sometimes they lived to tell about it.
Mason’s favorite prey was the slow-moving flatboats laden with produce for Natchez and New Orleans. Pretending to be local pilots guiding the boats through shallow parts of the rapidly flowing and eddy-ridden Ohio, the pirate/pilot would steer the craft onto a shoal, where Mason’s gang would pick it clean and take the goods to market themselves. With the arrival of the Harps and their three wives and three babies, the relatively non-violent ways of the river pirates took a murderous turn. After a few Harp games of taking travelers to the top of the bluff, stripping them naked, and throwing them off, they were politely asked to leave.
The final stretch of slaughter took place soon after this, in July 1798, when the Harps returned to Eastern Tennessee. The victims included a farmer named Bradbury; a man named Hardin; a boy named Coffey; William Ballard, who was cut open, filled with stones, and dumped in the Holston River; James Brassel, with his throat ripped apart on Brassel’s Knob; John Tully, father of eight. On the Marrowbone Creek in south central Kentucky, John Graves and his teenaged son, out planting crops, had their heads axed. Moving toward Logan County, the Harps came upon a little girl, whom they killed, as they did a young slave on his way to the mill. Once in Logan County, near today’s Adairville, near the Whippoorwill River, they butchered an entire migrating family asleep in their camp, but for one son who survived.
Stopping at a spot on land owned by Samuel Wilson on the Mud River near Russellville, they rested, thinking what to do to escape the posse in close pursuit. (The clearing in which the Harps rested later became a staging ground for Methodist revivals.) Sally’s four-month-old daughter was fretful, perhaps hungry. Big Harp took the baby from her mother’s arms, swung her by her tiny ankles, and brained her little head against the trunk of a tree.
Still, the killing continued.
Above, Albert Fish, a serial killer who killed children and ate them. |
Above, an autographed photo of Gein at his arrest.
A man named Trowbridge who’d gone for salt at Robertson’s Lick, his torso hollowed out, loaded with stones and sunk in Highland Creek; Maj. William Love, an overnight guest at the Stegall home in Webster County, who snored; the Stegall’s baby who cried; Mrs. Stegall who screamed when she saw her infant’s throat was slit. Gilmore and Hudgens, returning from the salt lick with their hounds, came upon the Harps. Pretending to be the posse, the Harps accused the two men of being Harps, arrested, and executed them. As they prepared to kill settler George Smith, near where the Harps were living in the cave that came to be known as Harp’s Home, the posse rode in.
After a chase, the posse left Big Harp’s body on Harp’s Hill, took his head to the crossroads, Harp’s Head, and displayed it there on Harp’s Head Road, attached to an oak tree, for the sober contemplation of passers-by. Before dying, Big Harp confessed to 20 murders, probably not counting the babies. Estimates are as high as 40, but usually around 30.
The three captive Harp wives lived on: Sally Rice returning to her family in Knoxville, remarrying, and migrating west with her new husband and her father, by way of Cave-In-The-Rock; Maria Davidson, called Betsey Roberts, marrying, moving to Illinois and raising a large family; Susan Wood becoming a weaver, raising her surviving daughter in Tennessee, and dying there.
As for Wiley, Little Harp, he rejoined the pirate Mason at Cave-In-The-Rock for about four years, when he showed up in Natchez with Mason’s head for the reward money. Little Harp was recognized, hanged, cut down, and decapitated, his own head impaled along the side of the Natchez Trace outside Old Greenville in Mississippi Territory, as a warning to outlaws.
Our interest in serial killers developed as a result of a recent cover story we did about Palomar Pomerado Health president and CEO, Michael Covert.
Covert was CEO of the Ohio State University Hospital system when he received reports of unusual and disturbing activity about a resident doctor at his hospital. Covert did not follow up on the documented evidence given him by his nurses and physicians. Had he done so, some argue, a lot of lives might have been saved. Instead, Dr. Michael J. Swango would go on to become another of America’s most notorious serial killers, with an estimated 30+ victims to his credit.
A former doctor already convicted of killing three patients in New York admitted also to killing a woman at Ohio State University's hospital, while Covert was the CEO, where authorities believe he began a string of poisonings.
Michael J. Swango pleaded guilty in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to aggravated murder in the January 14, 1984 death of Cynthia Ann McGee, 19, a gymnast who was recovering from a car accident.
Swango, then 45, admitted injecting McGee with a deadly dose of potassium when he was an Ohio State intern. He agreed to be returned to Columbus to answer to the aggravated murder charge after he pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in New York to the three 1993 murders at a Long Island veteran's hospital.
Judge Lisa Sadler sentenced Swango to life in prison with the chance of parole after 20 years. Aggravated murder was the most severe penalty he could get in 1984, when McGee died. Swango made no statement and stood looking at the judge with his chin slightly raised.
Swango already had been sentenced to life without parole for the three New York murders in a plea bargain that spared him the possibility of the death penalty. He was then sent to a maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado.
Prosecutors say they needed Swango's admission to charge him in Ohio because they had only circumstantial evidence—a nurse's account that she had seen him entering McGee's hospital room with a syringe just before the patient lapsed into a coma and died.
McGee, of suburban Dublin and a student at the University of Illinois where she was on the gymnastics team, was recuperating from an accident.
Authorities considered suspicious the deaths of at least six patients, including McGee's, while Swango was at Ohio State during the 1983-1984 school year. Ohio State barred him from returning for a second year. He then secured jobs in other hospitals, including in Zimbabwe, by lying. The African nation, where he also is suspected of poisoning patients, has agreed not to press charges.
Federal prosecutors charged Swango with the New York killings days before he completed a 42-month prison sentence for lying on an application for a residency at Stony Brook University Medical Center on Long Island. He admitted failing to disclose that he had spent 30 months in jail and lost his medical license in 1985 for poisoning six co-workers in Quincy, Illinois.
A book about him, “Blind Eye: The Story of a Doctor who Got Away with Murder,” suggests that Swango might have killed up to 35 patients as he moved from hospital to hospital.
Below is a list of known serial killers (note the work “known” - there is no question but what there are many more ‘out there,’ where you and I live, who are not yet known.
Readers interested in learning more about this macabre subject are recommended to get on the Internet, bring up Google (or your favorite search engine) and simply type in the names of the various serial killers. You will find hours of fascinating reading. Murder, torture, blood, guts, gore . . . yes, even romance (for there have been husband and wife serial killing teams as well as boy friend/girl friend serial killers (Richard Starkweather and Carol Ann Fugate, for example).
We warn you ahead of time, however, you won’t get much work done as you will soon find yourself very deepy absorbed in reading these fascinating, compelling cases.
Richard Ramirez, the “Night Stalker.”
Dr. Michael Swango
Edmund Emil Kemper III, also known as The Co-ed Killer, is an American serial killer who was active in the early 1970s. He started his criminal life as a teenager by shooting both his grandparents, a crime for which he was incarcerated. Kemper later killed and dismembered six female hitchhikers in the Santa Cruz, California, area. He then had sex with the dead bodies and cannibalized several. He then murdered his mother and one of her friends before turning himself in to the authorities.
Edmund Kemper remains among the general prison population and is incarcerated at Vacaville State Prison.
|List of Known American Serial Killers and
Number of Victims
|H.H. Holmes aka Herman Mudgett - 200+
Donald “Pee Wee” Gaskins - 100+
Henry Lee Lucas - between 3 . . . and 200+!
Richard "Iceman" Kuklinski - 40 - 100
Ted Bundy 35+
Donald Harvey 34+
John Wayne Gacy - 33
Jane Toppan 33
Gerald Schaefer 30+
Patrick Kearney 28+
Wayne Williams 28
Dean Corll - 27
Leonard Lake & Charles Ng 25+
Juan Corona 25
Richard Ramirez, The Night Stalker 25+
Earl Nelson 22
Coral Eugene Watts 22
William Bonin, the Freeway Killer, at least 21
Henry Lewis Wallace - 20
Jeffrey Dahmer - 19 men and boys
Paul John Knowles 18+
Joel Rifkin 17+
Robert Hansen 17
Randy Craft - the Southern California Strangler 16+
Douglas Gretzler & Willie Steelman 16
Earl Frederick 16
Albert Fish 15
Joseph Franklin 15
Donald Leroy Evans 15+
Belle Gunness 14+
Joe Ball 14+
Robert Joseph Silveria 14+
Randall Woodfield 13
William Lester Suff 13
Arthur Shawcross 13
Herbert Mullin 13
Albert DeSalvo 13
Joseph Christopher 13
Jack Unterweger 12+
Martha Beck & Raymond Fernandez 12+
Elton M. Jackson 12
Charles Starkweather & Ann Fugate 11
Vaughn Greenwood 11
Juan Rodriguez Chavez 11
Kenneth Allen McDuff 10+
Richard Angelo 10+
Ken Bianchi & Angelo Buono 10+
Christopher Wilder 10+
Eugene Britt 10
Edmund Kemper III 10
Gerald & Charlene Gallego 10
Bobby Joe Long 10
David Carpenter 10
Calvin Jackson 9+
Melvin David Rees 9
Andrew Urdiales 8+
Richard Speck 8+
Dorothea Puente 8+
Gary & Thaddeus Lewingdon 8+
Gregory Breeden 8+
Russell Ellwood 8+
Kendall Francois 8
William Darrell Lindsey 8
Gregory Clepper 8
Dayton Leroy Rogers - 8
Keith Hunter Jesperson 8
John Norman Collins 8
Alton Coleman & Debra Brown 8
Herbert Baumeister 7+
Robert Berdella 7+
Harrison Graham 7+
Carlton Gary 7+
The Axeman of New Orleans 7
Aileen Wuornos 7
Orville Lynn Majors 6+
Gerald Parker 6+
Morris Solomon 6+
Douglas Clark & Carol Bundy 6+
Michael Ross 6+
Richard Biegenwald 6+
David Wayne McCall 6
Debbie Fornuto 6
Daniel Blank 6
Hubert Geralds Jr. 6
Rory E. Conde 6
David Leonard Wood 6
David Berkowitz 6
Richard Trenton Chase 6
Cleophus Prince Jr. 6
Gene Rasberry 6
Paul Dennis Reid 5+
Lawrence Bittaker & Ray Norris 5+
Danny Harold Rolling 5+
George Pott 5+
Waneta Hoyt 5
Gary Evans 5
"The Foxglove Killers" 5
Andrew Phillip Cunanan 5
Glen Rogers 5
Walter Hill 5
The Toledo Clubber 5
Ralph Harris 5
Robert Shulman 5
Jerome Brudos 5
Arthur Bishop 5
Lyda Catherine Ambrose 5
Ricky Lee Green 4+
Joe Metheny 4+
Louis James Peoples 4+
Ricardo Caputo 4+
Wayne Adam Ford 4
Moreland Family Juvenile Baby Killer 4
Gerald Patrick Lewis 4
Eric Matthews 4
Mark Antonio Profit 4
John Williams Jr. 4
Francisco del Junco 4
Jack Barron 4
Donald Miller 4
Anthony Balaam 4
Lowell Amos 4
Eric Elliott & Lewis Gilbert 4
Robert Arguelles 4
Thomas Piper 4
Judy Buenoano 3+
Oscar Ray Bolin Jr. 3+
Raymond Jay Rogers 3+
Sean Patrick Goble 3+
Cecile Bombeck 3+
Craig Price 3
Michael Lee Lockhart 3
Paul Michael Stephani 3
Joseph & Michael Kallinger 3
Heriberto Seda 3
Unabomber Ted Kaczynski 3
Westley Allan Dodd 3
Theresa Cross 3
Charles Meach 3
Harvey Murray Glatman 3
William Heirens 3
Charles Schmid 3
Victor Gant 2+
Russell Ellwood 2+
Roger Kibbe 2+
Edward Gein 2+
Gary Heidnik 2
Note: For some fascinating reading, Google any of the above names. There are reams of information about each individual serial killer. Most are not for the squeamish. Serial killers, men or women, are not known as very nice people.